10 Amazing Circus Families


The Zoppés

Mafalda Zoppe (left) is shown with her sons Ermes, Gino, below, and Matt and Olissio atop their Black Percheron. Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Mafalda Zoppe (left) is shown with her sons Ermes, Gino, below, and Matt and Olissio atop their Black Percheron. Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Zoppé circus dynasty hails from Italy, although its founders, Napoline and Ermenegilda Zoppé, were actually French and Hungarian, respectively. The two met in Hungary in 1842. Napoline was a clown street performer and Ermenegilda an equestrian ballerina. Ermenegilda's dad disapproved of the match -- he deemed clowns beneath equestrian ballerinas -- so the pair fled to Italy and created their own circus. The couple and their troupe traveled across Europe via horse-drawn wagons, performing outside of churches [sources: Ponsi, Zoppe].

A century later, the circus still thriving, the Zoppés' great-grandson, Alberto, was offered a job by John Ringling North of the Ringling Bros. -- performing in Cecil B. DeMille's film, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Alberto said yes, provided North gave his family's circus an elephant to replace him. North agreed. Alberto ended up staying in America, where he produced circuses for Ringling and started his own family. Over the years, family members worked in various circuses until 2001, when Giovanni Zoppé, one of Alberto's sons, created a Zoppé Family Circus in the U.S. Like the original in Italy, it's an intimate one-ring circus where star Nino the clown tells the audience a story, which is punctuated by various acts and audience participation. No doubt Napoline and Ermenegilda would be proud [source: Zoppe].

Author's Note: 10 Amazing Circus Families

Writing this article made me wonder -- what act would our family have if we were a multigenerational circus family? We're not particularly athletic, so all of the acrobatics are out. I don't think we'd be good with animals, either. That leaves the clowns, but my baby sister is terrified of clowns. Hmmm ...

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